Just after Memorial Day they’d start going up. The fireworks stands. We watched them being assembled on street corners and the excitement built as we imagined buying explosives of all shapes and sizes. I knew my dad would be exited too and always wanted to go with him when he chose our assortment. You could buy piecemeal or a boxed up batch of goodies. It was a toss up which he’d choose and I wanted to be there in an advisory capacity.
Almost always there would be some worms in the mix. On the sidewalk and with no rain involved. Uh – what? Yeah, the worms were little black pellets you touched a match to and stood back while the black – whatever it was – uncoiled from the pellet. The remnants stayed on the sidewalks for weeks and sometimes we’d even get it on our shoes so we could track the stuff into the house. Mom loved them, too. They were for the daytime and kept us occupied until the big show at night. Included in the daylight delights were pinwheels. Pinwheels were literally pinned to a tree or telephone pole, lit and then get away quick cuz’ that puppy was going to “Wheeeee” for about twenty seconds spinning wildly while trying to break the sound barrier. When they started going off around the neighborhood you knew the 4th of July was at hand.
Still, the afternoon dragged on. Unless. You could sneak your brothers cowboy gun (I know, I know, it was a long time ago when you could still own one and not be shamed) and a roll of caps. The rolls were made of red paper and every quarter inch or so there was a small dot of powder that went “POW!” when the gun was fired. Sometimes we’d smack them with a hammer. You could get just as much “POW!” out of a roll as with the gun and it was faster, too. Of course you couldn’t play out a good “I’ve been shot!” scene and stagger around like a victim of John Wayne's wrath when you used the hammer, but on the 4th that didn’t matter as much. It was all about noise.
Then there was the year known in the family as the Night of Infamy. The story gets more and more twisted as the years go by and still raises the ire of all involved because it set our dad’s face against fireworks for a long time.
The box was beautiful. We could see through the cellophane window that there would be glory on the street that night. It was the longest afternoon ever, but we bounced our anticipation off each other as the hour grew near.
“Did you see that big fountain? Man, I bet it goes sky high!”
“There’s colored sparklers in there not just plain ones. Yay!”
“Five Roman Candles! Wait’ll the guys see that!”
And so on. We lived on Annette Circle in Southern California at the time and roughly sixteen families were on the street to view the show.
Except for what happened next it would have been spectacular, too.
Dad hauled the box of fireworks out into the driveway. It was almost dark enough. We could hear other families getting their explosives ready. All seven of us kids, along with a few cousins and friends, assembled on the grass, chased each other around the lamp post or nibbled on watermelon.
I don’t know who had the matches. I don’t know where each kid was. I don’t recall if Mom was still in the kitchen with aunt Marie and Dad had gone for a pail of water or what, but all of a sudden . . .
The whole box of fireworks was on fire! Shouts rang out. Dad came running. Even more shouts rang out – Dad was often the biggest firecracker of them all. Things began bursting from the box. We skittered this way and that. And then the box was doused.
Fingers were pointed. Explanations and excuses “it wasn’t me!” flew from every kids mouth. It was a whole different kind of fireworks display that year and it’s gone down in the annals of our family history darkly shrouded in mystery. Under the heading of “Big Fat Liars”. This title applies to a culprit who, to this day, has not stepped forward (he or she may still do so by posting a response here on my blog – no judgments will be made). C’mon Tim, fess up. Ahem . . . anyway.
I think the story is one of the greats. It’s lasted longer than any box of fireworks ever could and comforts us in our old age. I’ll bet your family has a humdinger or two of a story about Independence Day, too. Right?
Photo: Free Digital Photos